David Chen over at Pronet Advertising has picked up on an Associate Press piece about how Google, the biggest advertising sucees story ever, does not advertise. Rather, as Chen notes:

Although you can see Yahoo’s ads on TV and in movie theaters, Google doesn’t follow suit, instead relying on word of mouth, buzz marketing, and media coverage to spread its gospel.

The advantages to pursuing this kind of organic branding, Chen believes, are threefold:

  1. Saving Money
  2. No Risk of Oversaturation
  3. Cultivating Your Brand

The first is straight forward, and the second has to with not having your brand associate with a disasterous campaign. The interesting one is the third, where Chen chalks it up to one of the most basic marketing tactics: mystery. Chen explains:

By not having a large presence in any of those common mediums, Google cultivates a certain mystique about them. In some ways, Google’s absence seem to imply that they are above those forms of advertising, that it doesn’t need advertising […]

What it really comes down to, however, is a question of power. When Yahoo! passed up their chance to snatch up a company with better technology, a revolution occurred in the marketplace. After all, revolutions cannot happen unless the balance of power has already been upset.

At the time, Yahoo! might have had a more powerful brand, but Google had a more powerful product. When supply is inexhaustible (as search is) in a marketplace as young as the internet was then (and may still arguably be), demand will shift overwhelmingly toward the superior supply. Without a demand, a supply is worthless, and the supplier is therefore powerless.

Retaining power, of course, is a lot easier than usurping it, and what Google has done since is implement some very straight forward measure to preserve its power base. Most of these can be found in Robert Greene‘s 48 Laws of Power.

As far as its PR approach to branding goes, the Leviathan of Search has followed the Law 6: Court Attention at All Costs:

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious, than the bland and timid masses.

Then, when you consider initiatives such as Gmail and Google’s Webmaster Central (headed by Vanessa Fox), what you’re seeing is Law 11: Learn to Keep Google Dependent on You:

To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

That part about making others rely on your for their prosperity is probably why SEOs get so upset over changes, and affiliate marketers fear measures that Google can’t enforce. As for not teaching people too much, moreover, this is why Matt Cutts’ blog is so thoroughly scrutinized.

To get back to the issue of not advertising, however, consider Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor:

Too much circulation makes the price go down: The more you are seen and heard from, the more common you appear. […] Create value through scarcity.

Google, of course, is omnipresent, so it’s not exactly scarce. However, it’s only ever heard from through its own portals. That is, Google only ever reaches out to the public through the channels of its own products (Adsense, Gmail, etc,). In this case, then, you only hear from Google when you’ve gone to them, and that’s what Law 8: Make Other People Come to You is all about.

What all these efforts come down to can pretty much be summed up by Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following:

People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. […] In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.

Well, Google’s motto is a case in point of keeping words vague but full of promise. But consider how readily we all buy into the Google cult. On one level, we understand and appreciate the danger of the power that we hand over to Google everyday, but on the other hand, we kind of revere them for being so dangerous.

In fact, in a lot of ways, we trust and even expect Google to solve most of the problems on the internet and in the world, and pretty much won’t trust anyone else long enough to give them a chance to propose an alternative. That, ladies and gentlemen, is blind faith, and just like love sees no color, it is faith that sees no evil.

2 thoughts on “Google: Power Based Branding

  1. Without Google, Search & the internet would not have evolved so much. Though they are policing the net, they are making it safer & better as well. It is better Yahoo didnot purchase Google. Yahoo would not have developed so much Google as an independent company. By now it would be another just a take over story.

  2. I agree. Google basically pioneered the internet as we know it today. Of course, this tends to mean that they tend to feel like it’s theirs. The thing I’m wondering is if anyone could do a better job than them. Then again, at this rate, soon the only one who’s going to own anything online in terms of proprietary rights is them. Like all things important, there’s a catch 22.

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